Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Asp, CO Colorado
My daughter Skye and I went on a peculiar – some might say macabre – expedition recently to make, as they call it, “prior arrangements” with Farnum-Holt Funeral Home in Glenwood Springs.
Although I do not expect to leave the planet any time soon I do hope not to outlive my daughters, and my idea was to get everything set up and paid for ahead of time so they didn’t have to be choosing an urn or wondering what I’d like done with the ashes when the time came.
Skye’s friend Liz, who works at Farnum-Holt, set up an appointment for us with director Steven Pollard, who is also the deputy coroner, a big man who appeared to have been around the block several times and who has been in the death business for decades.
Farnum-Holt is just down past the railroad station on the riverbank. We were advised to mind the robin making a nest in the entry, a nice touch of new birth in the house of death, passed several strategic boxes of Kleenex in the lobby, and settled at a wobbly table (“Do you do seances?”) in a conference room.
Steven asked a few questions to determine what he was dealing with. Burial? NO!
Services? NO! Bare bones, so to speak, is what we were looking for – nothing fancy.
He handed me an 11-page price sheet, and the “bare bones” package cost $2,295 plus tax and death certificates! This included transport of my remains (within 50 miles) to the mortuary, a day in the refrigerator, the filing of legal documents, the cremation, and a cardboard cremation container (required).
Seeing my reaction (“Holy mackerel!”), Steven quickly won my heart by saying that if I made arrangements through their Rifle funeral home (same owners, same oven) the price would drop to $1,740, a savings of $555. I could understand that – imagine what the difference would be if the Sardy House were still Aspen’s mortuary.
As we talked, the pressing need to pre-pay was rendered moot. There was no requirement to buy an “official” urn – a plastic bag and a plastic box were part of the package, and that was fine with me. And who knows where you might be when you die? The kicker was that if I paid the $1,740 in advance it would go into a kind of “escrow” fund, and if the fund made any money I’d have to pay taxes on it. Screw that complication!
By then Skye and I both loved Steven; he knew that we weren’t going to be a “pre-pay” and was the antithesis of what the public has learned to fear from high-pressured funeral homes: He was as down to earth (so to speak) as you could get and, seeing that we were curious, began a tour.
On the way in I had peeked into the small auditorium used for “services,” now Steven opened another double door to a roomful of display coffins – pillows in place, half lids up. He explained how unethical funeral homes can gyp you. Say you pre-pay for the 18-gauge Brushed Silver Mist model with champagne velvet interior ($3,450) – who’s to know if they put you in the 20-gauge Silver Trindex with ivory Capri crepe ($975) instead?
The coffins looked cozy enough to nap in. “What will it take to put you into this today?” Steven quipped, patting the Mahogany Royale Hardwood with arbutus Mayfield velvet, which sells for $6,500.
Onward to the urn room, a whole bunch of them because burial is a dying (so to speak) industry – priced from reasonable to $1,500 for the cast bronze dolphin. Here also were the reusable rental coffins for cremation following “viewing,” with a sliding bottom.
I’ve seen the TV series “Six Feet Under,” and in my ad sales job I’ve seen the cramped offices and tight kitchens behind the façade of upscale restaurants, so the bare garage holding the hearse and people-mover vehicle and the embalming room shouldn’t have come as a shock, but it was a little bit shocking, especially the embalming table, but I wouldn’t be going there.
“Toe tags,” Steven said, holding up a pile of them, and then showed us the oven, which looked like a big, metal kiln. “How long does it take?” I asked. “Three and a half hours – three if you rotate.” Natural gas. No smoke. Someone was in the oven as we spoke.
If I were searching for a word to describe the experience, it would be “enlightening.” I have had very little experience with death, other than my own reprieve from it, and knew nothing about the “after” process. It was refreshingly basic and demystified. Now I feel quite comfortable knowing my kids won’t face dramatic decisions or horrendous expenses.
As for a resting place, no trekking up the Maroon Bells or keeping me on the mantel – maybe I’ll join the community table area of Aspen Grove Cemetery, a wild and lovely place. One-thousand dollars for a 4-by-6 spot – big enough to subdivide!
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Columnist Roger Marolt is learning to hold his breath longer during these hot, dry summers, he writes.